As a child, when you heard thunder, what did you do? Did you run to someone? Did you hide? Did you close all the blinds? Did you turn up the television? Where was your safe place during the storm?
Imagine a time in your life when you were the most scared.
Imagine the comfort you received.
The reassurance you were given.
Imagine the way it felt to feel your worries escape your thoughts.
The weight you felt being lifted from your heart.
Now, imagine that scary time again.
And this time, imagine being without a safe place to go.
Many years ago my husband was diagnosed with anxiety. He opted not to treat his diagnosis with medication, and he didn't seek further therapy. We just went on with life knowing that this "thing" was there. I didn't take the time to learn anything about it, I just assumed he would figure it out and that would be the end of it. He was going to be a fireman, and after all, they're the toughest guys out there, right?
During the fire academy there are many intense drills and scenarios that these guys have to face. I will never forget the day my husband called me on his way home, in tears, because he was so scared. They were preparing to do a confined space drill, which was a drill that scared him the most. And he couldn't do it. I didn't know how to help him. I didn't know what to say. I can't remember exactly what was said, but I can promise you this: it wasn't reassuring. I was at home raising a toddler and an infant while working full time and he was living in another city while going through this academy. I felt that I didn't have time for his fears, I had enough going on at home.
My husband called me during his storm. And I proved to him that I was not a safe place.
A few years ago I received a call from my husband's Captain; they were taking him to the local emergency room because he was having heart palpitations. Once it was determined that my husband was indeed in good health, he was discharged from the hospital and sent home. My husband called me on his drive home; he was silent, almost afraid to talk. I asked him the typical questions, "what happened?" And when he couldn't answer me, I grew frustrated. "What do you mean you don't know? Something had to happen. Something had to have made you feel this way. Do you have any [confined space] drills coming up? Are you freaked out?"
Again, he called me during his storm. And I proved to him that I was not a safe place.
When he walked in the door that day, I could see it in his face. I could see his defeat. I could see his fear. I could see his worry.
From that day, I vowed to be his safe place.
But I didn't know how to get there. I knew in my heart that I wanted to become his place of security, but I knew that he couldn't trust that I would be safe.
It took a long time and a lot of effort from me before my husband realized that I was, indeed, safe.
I remember the first time I saw him trust me.
He had come home from working at his mom's house all day long; when he got home, he saw that our lawns needed to be mowed, a sprinkler in the front of the house was shooting up like a fountain, and his dinner was on a plate in the microwave because he didn't make it back in time to eat with us.
He was pacing around the backyard and I stood in the kitchen watching him through the window. He finally stopped, so I walked out to him and just put my hand on his back. He started to pull away from me, but instead he stayed there and just turned his head in the opposite direction of me. I tried to look at him, and with just the right light from the moon, I could see that he had been crying.
He was overwhelmed. He was lost. He didn't know what to do next.
I grabbed his hand and just stood there.
I didn't say a word.
I just held his hand in mine.
And then....he opened up. His words came pouring out. I remember wrapping my arms around him, burying myself into his chest, and the only words I said were, "I love you so much."
That opened up the door for my husband. He knew from that moment on that I was safe.
For those that have been following my blog for a while, or who have known us personally, you know that our marriage most definitely had its highest of highs and its lowest of lows. I caused my husband a lot of pain with my deceit about finances, and he caused a lot of pain with the need to numb his emotions with alcohol. The both of us lost trust in each other and neither of us would call each other "safe." And for a long time, neither of us cared to be each other's safe place.
For years I prayed that God would change my husband. Don't we all do that? "God, please just change this about him..." I didn't dare pray for me to change because I didn't want that challenge. But God is amazing like that - I didn't have to pray for me to change because He was already working on it. And apparently I'm a slower learner.
In my blog post last year (I Moved a Storm) I shared about my daughter's anxiety attacks that we had been facing for months. As a mother, I did everything to learn more about how to help my daughter. I begged for advice, I purchased books, I paid for therapy, I prayed and prayed and prayed. I would do anything to be the safe place for my daughter.
And then one day I caught myself in the midst of my frantic research: why didn't I ever do that for my husband? I started paying attention to his habits: each morning that he was home and having to go to work, he woke in the middle of the night with a stomachache. I always knew this about him, but never questioned it; I didn't realize he was feeling anxious. He was a restless sleeper, always wanting to cuddle up to me in the middle of the night, and I'm not a snuggler...especially when I sleep.
One restless night he, again, woke me up by laying his weight on a majority of my body. Normally, I would turn away from him and force him to hug my back. This time, I turned my body towards him, wrapped my arms around him, and just held him. I felt his body relax and soon afterwards, his breathing became heavy as he fell back to sleep.
"Oh my gosh, all those years and this was all he needed?" I felt so guilty.
I finally got it right.
And for all the days of my life, I will never forget what he said to me 4 months before he died...
We were having dinner at his mom's house, I was watching him dance to country music with our daughter when he broke away from his dance and walked over to me. From behind, he wrapped his strong arms around my waist, nuzzling his face into that spot between my neck and my shoulder, and he said, "I love you more now than I ever have before."
I will never forget that.
I did it. I earned his trust. I had successfully become his safe place.
We used to joke that after years of being married, we "finally got it right."
So, how do you do it? How do you become the "safe place" when, if we're being honest, you don't want to?
You love him. And you love the beast in him.
I had somehow stumbled upon this image years ago when I was most definitely not acting as my husband's safe place. I saved this image to my phone and I stared at it...often. This spoke so loudly to me despite the fact that there were no words.
This was the effect I wanted to have on my husband. I wanted to melt away the monster.
Easier said than done, right? Each man is different. Each man has different needs. But each man wants to be heard. He had a bad day at work? He's stressed about paying the bills? He can't stand his coworkers? He hates the commute? His brother's best friend's uncle's neighbor upset him? The dog sheds too much?
"To answer before listening - that is folly and shame." (Proverbs 18:13 - NIV)
OR in other words:
"Answering before listening is both stupid and rude." (Proverbs 18:13 - The Message Translation)
I'm a big talker. And I love to offer solutions before even hearing the problem. Ugh. It took a lot of lessons for me to learn what God so clearly lays out.
Go back to the illustration above. She's not talking. She's not offering solutions. She's silently loving him. Let him talk. Let him speak. Let him know that you are not always going to rebuttal his words, and you are not always going to give a solution. Sometimes, they just want to be heard, and they want a safe place to lay those words.
We all have bad days. We all have those days when we just want to tear out the eyes of the stuffed animal on the bed because it looks too smug. (Oh, is that just me?)
And we all want to be loved during those bad days.
I often think about the unconditional love that I get from God on a daily (hourly, really) basis. He doesn't stop showing love to me because I want to rip apart that stuffed bear. In fact, He loves me even more. When I think about the number of times God has shown love and grace to me, I feel bad for the guy.
You can't give love without offering grace.
And you can't offer grace without giving love.
And God has given so much of both to me.
"You don't understand, my husband can be so difficult to love."
Oh, but I do understand.
Everyone has a husband who can be difficult to love.
And every husband has a wife who can be difficult to love.
(And let's be honest, if you have teenagers, even they can be difficult to love)
Think about when you were a child and you got hurt. What did you want? You were crying out in pain (equivalent to a bad attitude at the end of the day) and you needed to be comforted. What if your parent or grandparent saw you in pain, looked at you and walked away because they were angry with you for being disobedient the day before?
Is that what you do to your husband? Do you deny love and reassurance because he said something hurtful the day before?
Showing love to your spouse during their most difficult days begins to open the door of trust. The best way to show him love? Kindness. Don't mistake kindness with subservience. It takes great strength to be kind to someone who may not reciprocate. We all know the saying, "kill them with kindness." Just be kind. Watch what happens. Kindness can melt the hardest of hearts.
Be Patient...and PRAY
It pains me to know that for so many years I missed the cues of my husband's needs. He was not a perfect husband and I was certainly far from a perfect wife. But once we figured it out, it was better than anything we imagined.
What fills your prayers? The hope that your husband will be the one to change? Think again. That's not where God is going to put His focus. He needs to make sure your heart is ready for your husband's insecurities. God himself wants to make sure that you can be trusted with your husband's heart. So guess who He is going to be focusing on...you. Me.
I used to pray for God to change the heart of my husband. And then one of my closest friends told me to switch up my prayers. "Pray for him to feel God's love for him. Pray that he will know how much God loves him." So, I started praying for that...and guess who was the one God planned to use in that prayer request? Yep, me.
We can't change our guys. We can only focus on ourselves. There will be days when you throw your hands up in the air and say, "what the heck, God? I'm loving my husband like you told me to, why is it still so rough??" Because it doesn't happen overnight. It requires patience and complete reliance on God. My husband didn't change overnight. My husband changed when I did...he softened when I did.
There were many times when I tried to show my husband that I was safe. And there were many times that he was leery. There were several times that my efforts went unnoticed, and there were several moments when I wanted to quit.
But that night in my backyard, I saw the walls come down, and suddenly I lost count of the months I spent trying because all that mattered in that moment was that I succeeded.
Don't give up on your guy. Be patient. Like anything, you have to earn his trust. A man is not typically wired to expose his fears, his worries or his insecurities. Over time he will see that you are safe. Be patient. God is planning to use YOU to answer your prayers.
Hindsight is always the best sight, and in so many ways I wish I could go back to my newlywed self and teach myself how to be the safe place for my husband. Almost 16 years of marriage that included babies, separation, many arguments, hopelessness, and frustration. But when we "finally got it right," it was worth all those lessons we learned in years prior.
Love the monster out of your man, let him melt into your heart. Be that place of refuge for him. The place where he can safely lay his words, where he can comfortably expose his fears, and where he will run during the storm.
There was a night when my husband said to me, "I feel the safest when I am with you..."
Words that will forever stay with me. Words I never thought I'd hear. Words that were worth the days and nights of perseverance and prayer.
The work starts with you.
After all, every beauty loves the beast who desperately just wants to be a man.